Quick and Healthy Asian Orange Tofu
Orange chicken is synonymous with Panda Express, which launched in Hawaii in 1987. Memories of my high school and college days are filled with going to the mall food court and getting those tasty free bites they offered at the stand. In fact, Panda Express has a food truck dedicated solely for handing out free samples.
Someday I will roam around the city streets with a stroller full of orange tofu to give away. I don't imagine many people will be too excited about taking the samples from me, but hey, that means there will be more for me to enjoy.
Orange chicken originated in Hunan (those folks know how to cook, check out my Spicy Hunan Tofu Skins for more proof), with a bounty of produce grown locally and an affinity to mix spicy and sour like no other. The addition of sweetness to this dish makes for a flavor explosion in your mouth, which is why people have come to love it so much. The original dish was usually made with dried orange or tangerine skins, which are easily found at Chinese medicine shops, but in the West these shops are not common in many areas, so the recipe morphed to include orange juice and fresh orange peel in addition to added sugar. Because that just wasn't enough to satisfy the discerning American palate, cooks began to deep fry the chicken before coating it in the sticky sweet sauce.
My husband was one of these folks who used to love Panda Express's orange chicken before turning veg, and so I have had to make many versions of this dish to find the one that passed his test. I wanted to make sure it wasn't deep fried, but still had a great texture. Luckily small super firm tofu squares, which can be found in local Chinese supermarkets and wet markets were just the thing I was looking for. If you don't have this option, you can use pressed extra firm tofu, or even seitan or tempeh.
450g super firm tofu squares, or other protein you are using cut into medium chunks
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp corn starch
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
1 red bell pepper, cut into medium chunks
2 dried red chili peppers, sliced thin (add more if you like it spicy, I kept it mellow for the kids)
2 star anise
1/4 freshly juiced orange
zest of one orange
1/4 C water mixed with 1/4 vegetable bullion cube, or 1/4 vegetable stock
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tbs soy sauce (I used dark soy sauce, but you can use light soy sauce as well)
2 tbs coconut sugar or white sugar, or 1 tbs maple syrup
2 scallions, sliced into large pieces
1 tbs corn starch mixed with 2 tbs water
additional scallions and sesame seeds for garnished, if desired
1. In a medium bowl, combine tofu, corn starch, garlic powder, salt and white pepper. Mix well, evenly coating each piece of tofu. Set aside.
2. In another medium bowl, add in the orange juice, orange zest, water and bullion, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar. In a small bowl, mix together corn starch and water. Set bowls aside, close to the wok.
3. Heat a bit of cooking oil in a wok over medium high heat. When the wok is heated, add tofu and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the pieces begin to brown slightly at the edges. Add red pepper, stir once in a while, and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes, until peppers are a bit tender, but not overcooked. Add to an empty bowl and set aside, return the wok to heat.
2. To start the sauce, heat a bit of cooking oil in the wok. Add the dried chili peppers and star anise, heat for about 20 seconds until slightly fragrant.
3. Add in the sauce mixture and heat to a boil. Slowly add corn starch mixture and stir for an additional minute or so until mixture thickens. Add tofu and peppers back into the wok and stir, coating everything evenly. Remove from heat and stir in scallions. Serve immediately and watch everyone devour this juicy goodness!